Jordan, Sir John Newell (1852–1925), diplomat, was born 5 September 1852, second child and second among four sons of John Jordan, farmer, and Mary Jordan (née Newell) of Balloo, Co. Down; he also had two sisters, one of whom died as a child. The family was presbyterian. Jordan attended Bangor Endowed School and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, graduated from QCB (1873) with a first-class honours BA degree, and in 1874 became a classics tutor in QCC. In 1876 he obtained a post in the diplomatic service as student interpreter in China, at a time when there were many men of Ulster birth serving as diplomats or administrators in China and Korea, including Sir Robert Hart (qv) and Augustine Henry (qv). After ten years in the consulates of various treaty ports in China, Jordan became (1891) Chinese secretary in the British legation at Peking (Beijing), then in 1896 was posted to Korea as consul general, becoming resident minister in 1901. The queen of Korea had been assassinated in 1895; during Jordan's time in Seoul, Japan and Russia intervened in the country ostensibly to preserve order, but subsequently went to war with each other; Japan occupied Seoul in 1904, and in 1905 Korea became a protectorate under Japanese rule. Britain and other western powers tacitly supported Japanese expansionism and attempts to eradicate Korean resistance; Jordan declared that Japan was undertaking the ‘stupendous task of reform’ in Korea.
From 1906 to 1920, during a time of rapid and difficult changes in China, Jordan was envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary in China. He was accorded great respect by the Chinese and by the European community in Peking; it was noted that his influence in Peking had been ‘unique’, often because of his friendships with Chinese officials and leaders, and that he had had greater success in China than any foreign diplomat before him. He was involved in negotiations which finally in 1913 brought to an end exports of opium to China from India, then still under British rule. One of the leaders of the civil war that began in 1911 in China was Yuan Shih-k'ai, with whom he had been friends since they had met in Korea, and who became president of China in 1913. Jordan urged Yuan to bring the strife to an end by negotiation, and opposed the provision to either faction of any means of purchasing armaments. Jordan was created CMG (1897), KCMG (1904), and KCB (1909); he was made GCIE in 1911. He was a member of the privy council from 1915, and later of the League of Nations advisory committee. He was granted the freedom of Belfast (1910), received an honorary LLD from QUB (1921), and was pro-chancellor of QUB 1912–21. He retired from his post in China in 1920, but attended the Washington conference of 1921, at which the western powers acknowledged Chinese territorial sovereignty and autonomy of trading customs; his advice to Japanese and Chinese delegations was invaluable. Jordan lived in Putney, London, until his death at a meeting of the China Association on 14 September 1925.
He married (8 October 1885) Annie Howe Cromie (1850–1939), daughter of Dr R. Cromie from Clough, Co. Down; they had three sons, and a daughter who died before her father. Bangor Heritage Centre has a collection of memorabilia, including ceremonial objects presented to Sir John Newell Jordan, and there is a portrait by Frank McKelvey (qv) in the Great Hall of QUB.